American athlete speaks on weed imprisonment in world’s toughest prison

brittney griner interview

Brittney Griner’s harrowing tale captivated basketball fans, cannabis activists, and the world in 2022. The two-time Olympic gold medalist was traveling to Russia as she had the past eight WNBA off-seasons to play for club team UMMC Ekaterinburg, but she never made it to the court.

The nine-time all-star was detained at the airport on suspicion of having two vape cartridges filled with THC-heavy cannabis oil. Griner spent the next ten months in jail for an offense generally given a fine of 1000 rubles ($10) or 15 days in detention. She hasn’t spoken publicly about the ordeal at length– until now.

Prisoner in Russia: The Brittney Griner Interview, an intimate conversation between Griner and news anchor Robin Roberts, is set to air as a special edition 20/20 episode on May 1st. The exclusive special marks Griner’s first moves in a press tour promoting the May 7th release of her first memoir: Coming Home.

ABC News shared the first look at the special in which the mighty athlete bravely sheds tears recounting her experience in a Russian penal colony. The vape pens in her luggage? Allegedly an accident. The sentence? Objectively egregious. Her experience? Traumatic.

“There was a huge knife sitting on the table, and I was just like, ‘Naww, this is gonna be a ride.’ You’ve gotta do what you gotta do to survive,” Griner said in a preview of the interview shared on Good Morning America.

“The mattress had a huge blood stain on it, I had no soap, no toilet paper– that was the moment that I just felt less than a human,” she told Roberts.

At points, living felt like the most grueling task of all.

“Yeah I, just, didn’t think I could get through what I needed to get through,” Griner tearfully expounded.

Griner was released in December 2022 after serving almost a year in a Russian penal colony. Her freedom was made possible through a prisoner swap President Biden coordinated with Vladimir Putin for arms trafficker Viktor Bout.

Now, the basketball star is back to ballin’ for the Phoenix Suns and enjoying sinking her feet into American soil. Last week, Griner and her wife, attorney Cherelle Griner, announced they are expecting their first child. Things are abundant in BG’s world nowadays, which might be why she’s ready to speak on her trauma.

Tune in to ABC on May 1st at 10:00 pm EDT to watch the primetime exclusive Prisoner in Russia: The Brittney Griner Interview live, or stream the next day on Hulu.

Brittney Griner interview
WACO, TX – FEBRUARY 18: A detailed view of a scoreboard featuring former Baylor Bears player Brittney Griner before a ceremony to retire her number before the game between the Baylor Bears and the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Foster Pavilion on February 18, 2024 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) Photo: Ron Jenkins / Getty Images

Cara Wietstock is senior content producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.